Human beings have never been very adept at making upfront sacrifices in order to effectuate a brighter future. However, I would contend that this is not a particularly bad thing since we aren’t all that great at predicting exactly what that future will entail in the first place. One glance at today’s climate science presents a dizzying array of facts, figures and predictions aimed at goading anyone who will listen into embracing the sky-is-falling mantra that many climate scientists feel obliged to espouse. But anyone who has given this modern climate science even a cursory review can tell you that the predictions are all over the map and that newly acquired data are not conforming to the presuppositions that many climate scientists had previously viewed as inevitable based on their climate models. So what are we to make of this mountain of incoherent analysis? It is obvious to all but the most stubborn among us that global warming and climate change are real and that this scenario is going to have a significant impact on the lives of millions, if not billions, of people around the world. But to hear the prototypical hardcore environmentalist tell it, we have a few years, maybe a decade or two at most, to cease all carbon emissions or face dire and existential consequences.
This can’t possibly be true, can it? I would submit not. The fact is that most of these calls to voluntarily decimate the global economy, and thus allow society to devolve back into a rudimentary preindustrial existence in the absence of some miracle energy breakthrough, are the result of the emphasis we place on assessing what our potentially worst case scenarios are whilst ignoring the statistical likelihood of such events occurring. As a society, if we are going to base today’s economic decision making process solely on unlikely but plausible outcomes that may or may not come to fruition at some vague and distant point in the future, then we might as well pack up shop right now. After all, it is possible that an asteroid could theoretically strike our planet at any moment rendering this entire discussion moot. But if we do wish to engage the issue of earth’s changing climate with some modicum of rationality and pragmatism, then there are a host of viable solutions available that we can implement to better position ourselves to deal with upcoming changes in our environment that don’t involve destroying everything the human race has been able to accomplish over the past two centuries.
The catalyst will need to be a shift in the perception of how best to evaluate and address the problem. We need our scientific community and political leaders to cast preconceived dogmas aside, focus a bit less on what can happen and a bit more on what is most likely to happen. In other words, we as a society must conduct a risk based analysis of where our priorities lie and implement a program that comports with this conception. We also must recognize that human beings are among the most widely adaptable creatures to have ever inhabited this planet. Sometimes adaptation is preferable to vainly trying to maintain some perception of status quo, especially if the latter option is presented with an exorbitant price tag attached. It’s high time we acknowledged this fact when considering options in our pursuit of creating a suitable environment for future generations.
Considerations like these get us into the realm of being able to propose practicable solutions that won’t be faced with such bitter opposition by those who will inexorably be impacted by any action we take to combat global climate change. It also would put us in a much more favorable position to respond with additional policies should the need arise. By taking a more practical approach, we will be better able to assess the impact of various climate policies and to weigh the costs and benefits of enacting them on a global scale more appropriately. But most importantly, this change in dynamic will also shift focus away from the loudest, most extreme voices on either side of the debate and place us under the advantageous circumstance of having reasonable and moderate policy makers choosing the best course of action for us as a society. Hopefully this will result in better environmental policies that have a minimal effect on the global economy while ultimately leading to sustainable prosperity for all to enjoy.